How to Choose between 32- and 64-bit Windows

by Barry Dysert
(last updated March 21, 2016)

4

The terms 32-bit and 64-bit refer to the hardware capabilities of the computer processor (CPU). A 64-bit CPU can process data in larger chunks than a 32-bit CPU—twice as large! However, a 64-bit CPU is of no use unless the software that it is running has been designed to take advantage of its capabilities.

This is where the difference between 32-bit Windows and 64-bit Windows comes into play. Each is designed to take advantage of the hardware capabilities of your computer system. A computer system utilizing a 32-bit CPU can only use 32-bit Windows, but a system using a 64-bit CPU can use either 32-bit Windows or 64-bit Windows.

So why would you want to choose 64-bit Windows? A 64-bit Windows system is designed to more effectively handle large amounts of memory, so if your computer has more than, say, 4 GB of RAM, you may want to consider the 64-bit version of Windows. You must be sure, though, that your CPU is capable of handling the 64-bit version. To do this, go to Start | Control Panel | Performance Information and Tools. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. Performance Information and Tools.

Click the link near the lower-right of the screen entitled "View and Print Detailed Performance and System Information." Windows displays detailed information about your system. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2. Determining bit size of Windows.

As you can see, this system is already running a 64-bit version of Windows. If it weren't, but if it was capable of doing so, the screen would say "64-bit capable" instead of what you see.

You should also make sure that the software you use is 64-bit capable. For the most part, a 32-bit program will work in 64-bit Windows, with the exception of 32-bit device drivers. It is less likely that a 64-bit program will work in 32-bit Windows. So in practical terms, moving from a 32-bit system to a 64-bit system is pretty much a one-way trip. This isn't so bad, though, when you consider that most systems today ship with over 4 GB of RAM anyway, and this will probably continue to climb.

 This tip (5657) applies to Windows 7.

Author Bio

Barry Dysert

Barry has been a computer professional for over 30 years, working in different positions such as technical team leader, project manager, and software developer.  He is currently a senior software engineer with an emphasis on developing custom applications under Microsoft Windows. ...

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What is three minus 2?

2016-03-21 19:54:28

Gary

Hello All,
This article does not suggest which is best.
I have a laptop with max 2Gb RAM, with 64bit processer, so can never utilise the full potential of 64bit, over 4Gb+ RAM.
So performance wise, which is better under-performing 64bit or old 32bit designed to handle less than 4Gb RAM

Thanks for any advice.


2016-03-21 10:37:48

Barney

I'm running windows 10. I don't have Performance Information and Tools in the control panel. I seem to get similar information under Control Panel/System.


2016-03-21 08:54:08

WyoSteve

Dennis: It comes in either. The manufacturer of the computer decides which to use and often offers it in your choice of 32 or 64. I don't see much benefit in choosing a 32 machine except that it may be cheaper.


2016-03-21 06:42:27

Dennis

Is Windows 10 32-bit or 64-bit?


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